Good Hair, Bad Hair, Dominican Hair, Haitian Hair

104  Download (0)

Full text


Master’s Theses – Sociology Sociology and Anthropology

Fall 12-2013

Good Hair, Bad Hair, Dominican Hair, Hatian Hair

Katie E. Saunders

Illinois State University

Follow this and additional works at:

Part of theRace and Ethnicity Commons

This Thesis is brought to you for free and open access by the Sociology and Anthropology at ISU ReD: Research and eData. It has been accepted for inclusion in Master’s Theses – Sociology by an authorized administrator of ISU ReD: Research and eData. For more information, please contact

Recommended Citation

Saunders, Katie E., "Good Hair, Bad Hair, Dominican Hair, Hatian Hair" (2013). Master’s Theses – Sociology. Paper 14.


Katie E. Saunders

93 Pages December 2013

The goal of this research is to build on the literature concerning presentation practices of racial and national identity. The research examines presentation practices of race and national identity among Haitian heritage residents of the Dominican Republic (DR). Haitian immigrants have been an important part of the Dominican economy and

the Dominican way of life since the beginning of the 20th

century. Their descendants have to manage between Haitian and Dominican identities, while under the incredible pressure of anti-Haitian prejudices.

The current literature concerning Dominican presentation practices asserts that normative presentation practices hide racial blackness. However, more recent literature questions the existence of a relationship between Dominican presentation practices and race. This research is placed to adjudicate between the two arguments within the literature. While this research is accomplished in a different environment among adifferent population, the research conclusions of this thesis support the connection between race and presentation practices.


of the country. The study analyzes data from ten semi-structured interviews, one follow up focus group, and participant observation in Batey El Prado.

The research results show that presentation practices of hair styling and hair management reflect race, social class, and nationality. Hair management practices allow women to manage how others perceive their racial and national identity. The respondents show normative hair presentation practices that are nearly identical to that of the

dominant culture. The major finding is that hair styling techniques are used by the respondents as a status attainment strategy. By manipulating their hair, the respondents of this study attempt to hide racial blackness, avert the Haitian label, and assert a Dominican identity.



A Thesis Submitted in Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements

for the Degree of MASTER OF ART Department of Sociology ILLINOIS STATE UNIVERSITY




Maura I. Toro-Morn, Chair Thomas J. Gerschick


Schmeeckle for their resourcefulness and patience during the conception of this research thesis. A special thanks goes to my fellow Peace Corps Volunteers Enrique Aragon, Heidi Larr, and Bethany Copeland, my partners in crime and faithful net of support. I deeply appreciate the support of the one and only Elizabeth DeHart, without whom this research would never have been accomplished. I would like to thank the family, friends, and professors who have made this research possible. Last, but not least, thank you to Ambuj Neupane who read every word of every draft of this thesis since the very beginning. Thank you support team!



The Context of the Dominican Republic 10

Statement of the Problem 13

Goals and Objectives of the Study 14

Significance of the Study 15


Dominican Nation Building: Race and Identity 17

Overview of Presentation Practices in the Dominican Republic 24

Contemporary Research on Dominican Presentation 31


Background of the Setting 35

Research Overview 40

Data Collection 40

Semi-Structured Interviews 44

Participant Observation 47

Coding and Data Analysis 47

Focus Group 49


Self-Assigned Identity 55

Narratives of Skin Color and Nationality 57

Presentation Norms and Consequences 60

Good Hair and Bad Hair 61

Cuchicheo 62

Hair Management Practices 66

The Costs of the Hair Care Norm 69

Hair as a Status Attainment Strategy 73

Privilege and Class 77


Summary of Problem Statement, Methods, and Findings 80

Conclusions 82

Recommendations 85


APPENDIX A: Semi-Structured Interview Guide 91


Table Page

1. Popular Racial Labels in the Dominican Republic 26

2. Interviewee Demographics 44

3. Vignettes of Selected Respondents 45

4. Self-Assigned Identity of the Respondents 56


1. Map of the Dominican Republic, Nations Online Project 35



KES: Que quieres por tu cumpleaños, mi amor? What do you want for your birthday, my love?

Yumeli: Quiero alisarme. I want to straighten my hair.

Yumeli is the daughter of Haitian migrants, and she lives in a community in the

Dominican Republic called Batey El Prado. In December of 2012 Yumeli was turning ten years old, and the only thing she wanted for her birthday was to straighten her hair. Yumeli looks like a typical black girl. Her hair is short, thick, and wiry, and her mother normally keeps it pulled back in six twist-braids on her head. But for her birthday Yumeli’s hair was straightened.

There had been no electricity in the Batey for the past three months, but one wealthy family bought gas to keep a generator running in their house, and it was here that all the women came to maintain their hair. One blow drier and one flat iron was passed around the room, followed by a tub of hair gel. The women gossiped and did their hair, while their kids played on the floor.

Yumeli’s hair was done in two and a half hours. Her hair was transformed into a sleek four inches, though straightening it made it appear uneven. Nonetheless, she was proud of her new hair, which she flipped side to side and then carefully smoothed over her ears. Yumeli promptly returned to her house, put on a miniskirt, and a pair of high


heels to complete her look. I asked her if she liked her new hair, and she nodded enthusiastically. As she walked around proudly, all of the neighbors complimented her on the new look.

Why is straightening her hair so important to Yumeli? The answer to that question is found in the unique understanding Dominicans have of race, nation, social class, and identity. This matters to Yumeli because some claim that Dominican identity has been formed as the antithesis to perceptions of Haitians. Dominicans, in general, despise Haitians. To Dominicans, Haitians are voodoo-practicing bloodthirsty witches. This tension is evident in daily conversation with Dominicans and all manners of media. For example, in August of 2013 a university professor announced in the newspaper Dahabon Noticia that she had uncovered a Haitian plot, called Teclado de Guerra to take over the entire island on December 31, 2013 (Genao). According to her, the Haitians have been importing mass amounts of weaponry for the sole purpose of uniting the island under black leadership once and for all. In gruesome detail, this professor described exactly how Haitians would put an end to Dominicans, even going so far as to assert that the Haitian immigrants selling fruit in the streets are key players in the plan.

The tension between Dominicans and Haitians is a story that is centuries old. The two nations’ histories are so intricately intertwined that the Dominican-held perceptions of Haitian identity are intimately involved in the idea of what it means to be Dominican. As a Batey resident, Yumeli is part of an enclave of Haitians and Haitian-Dominicans, but born in the Dominican Republic, she lives negotiating between the two cultures. This thesis is a look into how Yumeli, and other Haitian heritage residents of the Dominican


Republic like her, are managing their lives as Haitian-Dominicans. This will be accomplished by exploring the subject of hair.

Hair is an expressive tool of individual and group identity. Dominican identity performance through hair care and management has been a subject of considerable research and debate recently. Amongst Dominican women, straight hair is the presentation norm, and research has shown that hair straightening is a way that

Dominican women perform racial identities (Candelario 2007). This research has also suggested that hair care reflects national identity, and that by straightening their hair, Dominicans attempt to approximate a Hispanic or indigenous look. What this research has not considered are the perspectives of Haitians and Haitian-Dominicans living in the Dominican Republic.

While race and racial identity of Dominicans has been studied extensively, very little research concentrates on the 500,000 to one million Haitian heritage residents of the Dominican Republic. This is odd, considering that since the 1990s this population has been at the center of a debate over citizenship and human rights. Haitians born on Dominican soil and Haitian-Dominicans have, at times, been denied medical care, education, and financial stability. Adding to an already difficult living situation, Haitian-Dominicans have to navigate daily between Haitian and Dominican influences, while knowing that everything associated with “being Haitian” is despised in the general context of the Dominican Republic. Though this is a well-known reality of life for them, having been the subject of much media attention, there is no research literature that considers how these people manage their racial and national identities.


This thesis is a preliminary look at hair-related presentation practices amongst this population. The central questions this research attempts to answer are, “What are the hair-related presentation practices amongst Haitian heritage residents of the Dominican Republic?” and “How do these practices constitute or reconstitute racial and national identity?”. I endeavored to answer these questions in Batey El Prado, Yumeli’s community situated in the Eastern side of the country. Over a period of five months I practiced participant observation, completed ten interviews, and one focus group.

The results show that presentation practices of hair styling and hair management reflect race, social class, and nationality. The respondents show normative hair

presentation practices that are nearly identical to that of Dominicans. The major finding is that hair styling techniques are used by the respondents as a status attainment strategy. By manipulating their hair, Haitian heritage residents of the Dominican Republic are able to hide racial blackness, avert the Haitian label, and assert a Dominican identity.

In the following sections I discuss the sociological understandings of race and presentation practices, as these are the central concepts I utilize during the research. I then describe the context of the Dominican Republic, drawing from previous research on racial and national identity, as well as my own experiences living and working in the country as a Peace Corps Volunteer for over a year. I also explain recent political issues that took place in the Dominican Republic after my research was complete to further illustrate the relevancy of this research. I then explain the problem statement and objectives of the research, ending with a discussion of the significance of this study.



Since the nineteenth century social scientists have wrestled to understand race, race relations, and racism. The sociology of race has made great gains, particularly following the conclusion of World War II. However, in the 2000 issue of the Annual Review of Sociology, Howard Winant, a leading sociologist of race, wrote, “As the world lurches forward into the 21st century, there is widespread confusion and anxiety about the political significance, and even the meaning, of race.” Clearly, there is still much work to be done.

Contemporary scientists have come to the conclusion that there is no biological basis for distinguishing human groups along the lines of race. Ninety-nine percent of genetic makeup is identical in all humans. The remaining 1% variation in genetic makeup occurs at the level of the individual or the family (Graves 2009). The absolute differences between racial phenotypes are ambiguous. Though the concept of race has little scientific traction, race is a social fact, and its consequences are very real. Race is created from social and historical processes, and it plays a fundamental role in structuring the social world.

Most race theories today can be categorized as assimilation theories or power-conflict theories. Though these race theories are built on the foundation of a US-oriented consideration of race, they still have important considerations for the discussion of race within the Dominican Republic. The assimilation perspective holds that minority races or ethnicities will eventually conform to the host society’s culture and social structure. Robert E. Park proposed a four-step model of assimilation between groups in which the inevitable conclusion is assimilation. Milton Gordon expanded Park’s assimilation


model to a seven-step process. He also emphasized that these changes take place across generations, and may not occur within one lifetime. Assimilation theorists tend to focus on immigrant groups, acculturation, and inter-group dynamics that value consensus (Feagin and Feagin 2009: 14).

Power-conflict theories of race recognize class as an integral element of the understanding of race. W.E.B. Du Bois was one of the first major conflict theorists to argue that racial oppression and class-based stratification are linked. In his 1948 article “Is Man Free?” Du Bois argued that U.S. capitalism combined with racism prevented the United States from enjoying political democracy across the racial spectrum. Drawing on Marxist ideas, conflict theories focus on institutionalized racial and ethnic inequalities, and emphasize the relationships between these inequalities and the capitalist system. In contrast to assimilation theories, power-conflict theories are concerned for subordinate groups that resist domination.

As one of the most contemporary race theories, Racial Formation Theory offers a unique understanding of race—one in which race is viewed as socially constructed and not static. The founders of Racial Formation Theory, Michael Omi and Howard Winant, view race as the accomplishment of ongoing racial projects. Racial projects create ideology that defines and represents what “race” is. Through this process, racial projects also institutionalize and structure relationships of power based on race. On both the micro and macro level Omi and Winant understand racial identities as unstable. They assert that, “We all make our own racial identities, though we do not make them under circumstances of our own choosing” (2013: 963). Thus, race, is subject to both


Omi and Winant consider racism to be a concept separate from race. For them, racism is a project that combines harmful representations of race, such as stereotypes, xenophobia, and aversion, with patterns of domination, such as violence, hierarchy, and exploitation. For Omi and Winant, racism is coded into appearance. Racism marks visible characteristics of the human body for purposes of domination. Thus, “to see racial projects operating, at the level of everyday life we have only to examine the many ways in which, often unconsciously, we notice race” (1986: 201). This brings us to examine presentation practices and appearance norms as an active racially coded activity.

Presentation Practices

Presentation practices refer to the body of norms, mores, customs, and attitudes concerning appearance. In choosing presentation practices as a conceptual device in this research I am proposing that individuals and groups purposefully use appearances to convey and perceive identity. This approach is influenced by theories of symbolic interactionism, in which self-identity is created through interactions with other

individuals, groups, and institutions. Symbolic interactionism assumes that people are inherently social, and that society is used as a mirror for judgment of self. In other words, people create meanings for their bodies, and they evaluate their bodies based on social and cultural standards, taking into account the perceived attitudes of others. Thus, people learn shared codes and symbols for the presentation of self, and they learn how to influence others through appearance.

One concept that is important to symbolic interactionists, and useful for the development of this thesis research, is stigma. Erving Goffman defines stigma as the framing of identity such that the individual attached to that identity is conceived as


sub-human and disqualified from society (Goffman 1969). Thus, a stigma is something of a “master status” that envelops all other personal qualities. Examples of stigma include morbid obesity, development disorders, and mental illness. For Goffman, defining the stigma and managing it is an interactive social effort (Smith 2011). That is to say, normative society must define a script in which to deal with the stigmatized, just as the stigmatized require a script to relate to normative society. The label, the stigma, exists within a duality: it projects itself as a barrier, but it also constitutes a social role.

While stigmas can be socially-consuming, Goffman, and other theorists posit that stigmas can be overcome through impression management. According to Goffman, the individual has three standard control moves that can be utilized: concealment,

accentuated revealment, or misrepresentation (Goffman 1969). By controlling social perceptions, stigmatized or marginalized individuals are practicing their social agency. This social agency is exactly what this thesis is analyzing through the study of hair-related presentation practices.

Despite its significance for identity studies, hair itself has received relatively little attention from social researchers (Candelario 2007). Hair is one of the most personal and public displays of individual and group identity. Because it is one of the body’s physical characteristics that is the most malleable, it is an expressive vehicle for identity displays. Presentation practices involved in hair care, management, and styling convey important messages about identity, including race and nationality.

Benedict Anderson has argued that national communities are formed in the construction of an ideology that resolves internal differences (1991). Through a social and historical process of nation building, a singular identity emerges to bind a national


community together. Appearance is one aspect that can unite a people. Oluwakemi Balogun states that “markers of appearance, such as dress, make up use, accent, and grooming are vehicles of collective identity” (2012: 368). The body is the terrain where national identities are (re)produced. This means that through the management, alteration, or presentation of the body individuals and groups can submit to, or resist, national collective identity.

Physical differences demarcated by racial phenotypes make hair a racially political characteristic. Black people are typified as having curly, course, wiry, thick-bodied hair, while White and Asiatic people are characterized as having fine, smooth straight hair. Black hair is subject to a number of different codes and symbols of interpretation. For instance, natural Black hair can be interpreted as confidence or

rebelliousness. Going natural can be even be interpreted as a sign of LGBT status (Prince 2009). In contrast, straight Black hair can signify conservativeness, seriousness, or professionalism. The symbols encoded in the presentation of Black hair are especially significant because in most Westernized societies natural White hair is considered normative, and natural Black hair is considered non-normative (hooks 1988). In other words, racially Black hair in its natural state is socially uncomfortable, while White hair lacks the political element associated with Black hair (Grayson 1995).

While Black hair is political, it is also very personal. Althea Prince explains in her personal account of her relationship with her hair, “The hair on a Black woman’s head is treated as if it is an entity separate from her body. She and her family treat it that way, and other Black people treat it that way” (Prince 2009: 6). Her respondents describe each time they change their hairstyle as a change to themselves. They feel fresh, vibrant,


and new. This shows that Black hair is associated with the psychological and social self, as well as with the political self. Prince’s findings show that hair care practices invoke important themes of identity. By studying hair presentation practices we can understand how hair acts as a vehicle for collective and individual identity across a number of platforms—including race and nationality.

The Context of the Dominican Republic

Contemporary conceptualizations of race in the Dominican Republic (DR) are intimately linked with nationality. Many Dominicans do not distinguish between race and nationality—taking the two to be one and the same (Godreau 2000). This forms a racial dichotomy between Dominicans, who are construed as mixed and/or white, and Haitians, who are construed as black. The following excerpt from Julia Alvarez’s personal account of her childhood in the Dominican Republic is illuminating.

“I was visiting La Romana where Haitian sugarcane workers flood the market on Saturdays to shop. Two equally Black men were arguing in loud voices over some mistake in an exchange of pesos. One insulted the other, "Negro maldito!" Cursed Black! "Aren't they both Black?" I asked the Dominican friend who was with me. "Oh no," he explained. "The Haitian one is Black, the other one is Dominican.”

(Alvarez 1993: 129).

Dominicans are the descendants of Spanish colonialists, African slaves, and the indigenous Taino. Approximately 90% of the Dominican population is black or mixed. Despite the fact that the vast majority of Dominicans can be categorized as black or mixed, no other country exhibits greater indeterminancy regarding racial identity (Duany 2006). Visitors to the Dominican Republic claim that “Dominicans are confused about who they are…they don’t know that they are black” (Simmons 2008: 97). Juan


no, I’m not black! I am something else.’ Dominicans are in complete denial about who they are” (Louis Gates 2011:155). Despite the diversity of skin colors and tones, the typical Dominican thinks of himself as a European of Spanish descent.

The United States subscribes to the one-drop rule of racial Blackness (developed from Jim Crow laws stating that one drop of black blood defines a individual as Black). Dominicans also believe in the one-drop rule, but for them the rule goes in the other direction. For them, the one-drop rule is “la gota no-negra” the one drop of non-blackness. If a Dominican has any Hispanic or indigenous ancestor, that then qualifies him as non-black. Thus, instead of the US idea of “black contamination” the Dominican Republic embraces “black purification”. This racial paradigm is something that has intrigued and attracted social scientists to the island of Hispaniola for the past several decades.

The literature concerning Dominican racial identification shows that Dominican identity has been formed as polemic to that of Haiti. This is not simply a latent theme of what it means to be Dominican, but is something that is very active in current events. Since the beginning of the 20th

century hundreds of thousands of Haitians have crossed the border to seek a better life. With them came a debate over citizenship rights, a debate that escalated in 2007, as authorities refused to issue citizenship documents to Haitians born in the Dominican Republic. Just recently, on September 23, 2013, the Dominican Republic’s Constitutional Court issued a decision that retroactively denationalized all Haitians born in the Dominican Republic since 1929. Anyone who does not have at least one parent of Dominican blood is denied Dominican nationality. This ruling effectively renders more than 250,000 residents of the Dominican Republic stateless (Arroyo 2013).


The United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) has expressed concern that the ruling could create a human rights crisis, as the ruling blocks tens of thousands from receiving medical care, pursuing careers or education, and threatens deportation (UNHCR 2013). This issue of citizenship is just one example of the problematic relationship Dominicans have with Haitians.

Race is one of the most basic perceived differences between Haitians and

Dominicans. Like most societies, Dominicans have a complex coding system associated with racial identification. Hair is arguably one of the most prolific modes of racial presentation in the Dominican Republic. Both male and female Dominicans engage in presentation management through hair treatment, style, and care. Dominican men by and large keep their hair cut very close to the scalp. Dominican women treat and straighten their hair (Murray 2010). Both tactics are meant to downplay African roots and

emphasize a Hispanic, or, at the least, an indigenous look (Candelario 2007).

In contrast to Dominicans, Haitians are more popularly known for celebrating their blackness through their hair. This includes leaving it natural, braiding it in cornrows, and braiding in extensions. It is also popular to weave yarn and colored hair into braids. Before the devastating earthquake of 2010, dozens of hair stylists braided and colored hair in the Iron Market of Port-au-Prince (Associated Press 2012). These hair stylists had a lot of business, and usually worked from six A.M. to dusk. In the wake of the earthquake these hairstylists have renewed their businesses, working amidst the rubble. Their presence is interpreted as a symbol of Haitian pride and resilience.


Statement of the Problem

The body of research on Dominican presentation practices is small, but it is growing. Researchers such as Ginetta Candelario (2000; 2001; 2007), Wendy Roth (2004), Gerald Murray (2010), and Marina Ortiz (2012) have made important

contributions to the field. Ginetta Candelario’s work on transnational Dominican identity displays provides the foundation for contemporary research on Dominican presentation. Her research found that hair is the Dominican symbol for racial identity and that

Dominicans engage in strategic ideological code switching to maintain identity salience across social contexts. Candelario’s thorough work on the subject has been the

preeminent research in this field. However, the most recent contribution—that of Gerald Murray and his co-author, Marina Ortiz (2012)—asserts that Dominican hair care norms are not part of strategic presentation practices to manage racial identity. They say that the way that Dominicans style and care for their hair is not a way for Dominicans to assert a Hispanic, non-black identity. They claim that hair straightening is a beauty aesthetic, similar to the attempt of white women to tan. Murray and Ortiz challenge the basic relationship Candelario established between Dominican presentation practices and racial identity, creating a rift in the current literature. Further investigation is needed to substantiate the relationship between race and presentation practices.

In addition to the new rift in the literature, the current research available neglects to consider the population of Haitian heritage residents in the Dominican Republic. It has been estimated that between half a million and a million Haitians and

Haitian-Dominicans reside in the Dominican Republic, both legally and illegally (Arroyo 2013). Haitians, according to the literature, represent the antithesis of Dominican identity, yet, as


a minority group in the Dominican Republic, Haitians are actively engaged with normative Dominican presentation practices concerning national and racial identity. Additionally, with reference to the current citizenship debate, residents of the Dominican Republic with Haitian lineage are under unique political pressure and social scrutiny. Under these circumstances, Haitians may acculturate the Dominican model of

presentation or reinforce Haitian presentation norms.

Goals and Objectives of the Study

Since the beginning of the 20th

century, Haitian immigrants have been integral to the Dominican economy and the Dominican way of life. However, there is very little research that considers how Haitian heritage residents of the Dominican Republic manage identity between Haitian and Dominican norms of racial and national

presentation. This study offers a preliminary look at how a substantive minority group manages racial and national presentation practices, under the pressure of anti-Haitian prejudice.

This study has two overall research goals. The first is to investigate the relationship between race/racial identity and presentation practices. This research adjudicates between the current research conclusion (that of Ginetta Candelario) and the recent challenge (that of Gerald Murray and Marina Ortiz). Second, this research seeks to offer a preliminary understanding of Haitian-Dominican identity in the Dominican Republic.

These research goals will be fulfilled through the following objectives. The first objective is to investigate presentation practices through the medium of hair among Haitian heritage women. The results will show whether or not the respondents of this


study present signs of acculturation. The second objective is to understand how these practices constitute or reconstitute racial and national identities. Both objectives seek to fill a research void, as virtually no research exists concerning the practical lives of Haitians living in the Dominican Republic. This study will be accomplished through qualitative research, using participant observation, ten semi-structured interviews, and a focus group.

Significance of the Study

This research will contribute to the body of research on racialized and

nationalized presentation practices. An investigation into the presentation practices of Haitians and Haitian-Dominicans living in the Dominican Republic is pertinent and timely, considering the current division in the literature about the relationship between race and presentation practices. In this, the study is filling a direct literature need.

The difference between the theses of Murray and Candelario is fundamental and ideological, and it calls into question the existence of the relationship between

presentation practices and race/racial identity. This rift in the literature is important to address because the two differing conclusions have great implications for the state of race relations in the Dominican Republic. Candelario’s conclusion shows that race and racial identity is a very important consideration for average Dominicans, implicating that racial identity is practiced every day. Murray’s findings implicate the opposite—that race and racial identity are not acted out in every day life. If this is true, then the subject of racial identity is not of great importance to average Dominicans.

My research can be seen as a direct response to the debate between Candelario and Murray. Though the study is accomplished in the environment of a batey among a


very different set of respondents, this research adjudicates between the conclusions of Candelario and Murray. I substantiate the relationship presentation practices have with race and racial identity through the investigation of hair care and management.

More specifically, this study seeks to understand how a minority population is reacting to dominant presentation practices. Identity management research concerning Haitian heritage residents of the Dominican Republic does not exist, something that is surprising, considering the documentation and Haitian-rights movement currently making headlines. This research is original, one of the first sociological looks at this population. I hope that more research will be forthcoming.




Dominican Nation Building: Race and Identity

A cursory understanding of basic Dominican history is necessary to comprehend contemporary discourses of Dominican identity, which developed against a complex backdrop of French and Spanish colonial interests, Haitian nationalism, and U.S. imperialism.

Christopher Columbus claimed the island of Hispaniola for Spain in 1492. The arrival of the Spanish explorers meant the decimation of the local population from strenuous working conditions and disease. Thirty years after the arrival of the colonialists, the native population had dwindled from an estimated 1 million to 5,000 people (Dominican Republic History). Colonial development had to be supported by African slaves.

The Spanish colonialists were different from other colonialists in that rather than place legal and social barriers on interracial marriage, as did the English, the Spanish encouraged racial miscegenation. Over time, intermarriage produced an extensive blending of physical traits and racial phenotypes. Today it is reported that 73% of the Dominican population is a mix of Afro-European phenotypes (Central Intelligence


Agency). This is the highest documented proportion of people of mixed

African/European descent in the Americas. On the other side of Hispaniola, French colonialists forbade intermarriage, in direct contrast to the Spanish colony.

The island of Hispaniola is shared by two nations—one of only five cases in the world in which islands are divided into two separate political territories (Lopez-Severino and de Moya 2007). The Ryswick Peace Agreement of 1697 legalized the French occupation of the Western half of Hispaniola, which would be called Haiti, and the Spanish occupation of the Eastern half, which would be called the Dominican Republic. However, both Haitians and Dominicans are the descendants of slaves and slave owners. They share a common land, ecology, geography, and they have an intertwined history, but in most respects, Haitians and Dominicans are regarded as completely distinct from one another.

While Haiti blossomed socially, culturally, and economically during the 18th

century, the Spanish settlement became increasingly unprofitable, and the Spanish lost interest in maintaining the colony. Dominican landowners found it impossible to sustain black slaves in plantation-style conditions, and the number of free blacks on the island rose to become a majority. According to a study by the American Library of Congress, by the nineteenth century, the population included 40,000 of Spanish descent, 40,000 Black slaves, and 70,000 freed Blacks or mulattoes (2010). The economic distances between Blacks and Whites were diminishing, as the destitution of Whites closed the social status gaps (Torres-Saillant 2000). This gave Black people opportunities for economic and social mobility. Those that have claimed the Dominican Republic to be a racial democracy mark this period as the beginning of said democracy (ibid).


In this rearrangement of social hierarchy, Moya Pons, a distinguished Dominican historian, writes that:

“Skin color came to be of secondary importance for social differentiation,

although not completely unimportant. At the end of the 18th

century and in the early 19th

century, Dominicans perceived themselves as a very special breed of Spaniards living in the tropics with dark skin, but nevertheless, culturally white, Hispanic, and Catholic” (1981: 24).

French travel writers of the 19th

century noted that Dominicans of clear African descent would call themselves “los blancos de la tierra”—the “whites of the land” (Candelario 2007).

Despite their dark skin color, they considered themselves to be culturally white. Race was conceived of as a concept that included social class, profession, income, and friendship. In other words, ‘whiteness’ was an achievable status (Duany 2006). A person on the darker side of the spectrum might attain a lighter race by achieving a better economic status or gaining the friendship of White people. Therefore, racial mobility, within limits, was possible. A popular Dominican saying goes: “A rich Black is a mulatto; a rich mulatto is a White man” (Alvarez 1993:129).

While Dominicans were “whitening” the nation, Haiti was revolutionizing under the direction of Toussaint Louverture. In 1804, Haiti became the first sovereign Black republic. Black skin color was a, if not the, central component of Haitian national identity. The Haitian Constitution of 1805 declared all residents of Haiti black, regardless of skin color: “Because all distinctions of color among children of the same family must necessarily stop, Haitians will henceforth only be known as blacks” (Louis Gates 2011:173). In one of the earliest political acts of Pan-Africanism the Haitian


government of 1816 welcomed all black people around the world to become Haitian citizens.

The Haitians sought to unite the island of Hispaniola under one black governance, and occupied the Dominican Republic from 1822 to 1844, in what became known as the dark period of Dominican history. Haiti had been fined an indemnity by France for its independence, and the burden of paying the debt was transferred to the Dominicans. Dominicans have not forgotten the brutality of the Haitian occupation, and to this day celebrate their independence from Haiti (Jansen 2007; Moya Pons 1998).

When the Dominican Republic gained independence from Haiti in 1844, the Dominicans again pledged allegiance to the Spanish crown. The 1844 independence manifesto of the Dominican Republic decisively stated Dominican opposition to

unification, "due to the difference of customs and the rivalry that exists between ones and the others [referring to Haiti and the Dominican Republic], there will never be a perfect union nor harmony" (Despradel 1974: 86). Dominicans lived in fear of the Haitian military, the Haitian economy, and Haitian migration.

For the ten years following Dominican independence, Haitians continued military excursions into the Dominican Republic, which led to Dominican nation-building

projects. Benedict Anderson has argued that national communities are formed in the construction of an ideology that resolves internal differences (1991). However, it is sometimes forgotten that in the ambition of homogenization, “others” and “out-groups” are created—groups and people outside of the space of the national community. In this case, anti-Haitian prejudices were actively encouraged as an element of Dominican national cohesion.


Over the 19th

and 20th

centuries, the Dominican elite sought to encourage a national identity in opposition to that of Haiti, and the primary accomplishment was the “racialization” of Haitians. Howard Winant defines racialization as “the extension of racial meaning to a previously unclassified relationship, social practice, or group” (1994:59). The Haitian racialization project construed Haitians as truly Black, the sons and daughters of African slaves, while Dominicans were somatically "White"—the descendants of Spanish conquistadores. To be Dominican was to be Hispanic, and not black. The Dominican anthropologist Juan Rodriguez states, “Nobody here is black because the word is reserved for Haitians” (Louis Gates 2011: 157). Only Haitians are considered black. Blackness in the Dominican Republic does not mean African—it means Haitian.

Colonel Rafael Trujillo’s dictatorship over the Dominican Republic (1930-1961) was the height of the racializing project. Trujillo, who ironically had a Haitian

grandmother, used anti-Haitian sentiments to define a common enemy around which to unite the country (Louis Gates 2011). During the era of Trujillo, the collection of anti-Haitian prejudices called “antihaitianismo” was aggressively delivered through a variety of media, through the public school system, and through the all-powerful ruling party. In addition, the antithesis conceived between Haitians and Dominicans was actively built by intelligentsia—particularly by Manual A. Pena Batlle and Joaquin Balaguer, historians and writers of Trujillo’s party (Duany 2006). Peña Batlle’s famous address to the border town of Elías Piña, "El Sentido de una Política" (The Meaning of a Policy), clearly displays the state's official opinion regarding Haitians:


“There is no feeling of humanity, nor political reason, nor any

circumstantial convenience that can force us to look indifferently at the Haitian penetration [the Haitian migrant]. That type is frankly

undesirable. Of pure African race, he cannot represent for us any ethnic incentive. Not well nourished and worse dressed, he is weak, though very prolific due to his low living conditions. For that same reason, the Haitian that enters [the Dominican Republic] lives afflicted by numerous and capital vices and is necessarily affected by diseases and physiological deficiencies which are endemic at the lowest levels of that society” (Peña Batlle 1954).

Joaquin Balaguer, president of the Dominican Republic for three terms (1960-62;

1966-1978; 1986-1996), and founder of modern day Dominican democracy, claimed that race was the “principal problem” of the Dominican Republic. He called for measures to halt the “africanization” of the nation. He expressed hope that over time the Dominican people would improve their “anthropological traits” by whitening the nation and

opposing Haitian migration (Torres-Saillant 2000).

Other intellectual leaders concerned themselves with the past, and rewrote history to emphasize the Dominican Republic’s whiteness and deny African roots. The

distinguished historian Henriquez Ureña wrote that “until 1916 the black population did not predominate…not even the mixture of black and whites” (Torres-Saillant 2000: 17). Here Ureña indirectly denies Dominican African lineage, claiming that Dominicans are of unquestionable European background. Ureña claimed that the “new” influx of Black people in the Dominican Republic was due to foreign influence, and expressed particular concern over immigration from Haiti. At the same time Luis Julian Perez, a member of Trujillo’s party, defined Dominicans as “A community of Hispanic origins, by virtue of customs and traditions, religion, language, and, in general, a culture in constant

interaction with European civilization.” In contrast, Haitians “lack the most elementary attributes of civilized men” and are committed “body and soul to foul dealings and cults


that clash with Dominican life” (ibid:8). These racist, negrophobic, and xenophobic anti-Haitian sentiments reached their apex in 1937. The Trujillo dictatorship authorized a massacre of all Haitians living on the border, which resulted in the execution of as many as 15,000 Haitians (Sagas 1993).

The long-standing anti-Haitian prejudice in the Dominican Republic is a well-documented historical and present reality. Instead of the ‘dangerous Haitians’ of the past, Dominicans are now afraid of the ‘poor and defenseless Haitians’ (Grateraux 1988). It is estimated that there are between 500,000 to a million Haitians in the Dominican

Republic, a large number for a country that holds ten million people (Murray and Ortiz 2012). Jorge Duany argues, “Once groups are racialized they develop distinctive patterns of occupational specialization, educational achievement, residential segregation,

marriage, cultural representation, and legal treatment by the dominant society” (2000: 233). This certainly holds true for Haitians who have migrated to the Dominican Republic.

Haitians often live in abysmal conditions. An unknown number of Haitians in the Dominican Republic live on sugar company settlements called bateyes, and work for six months out of the year harvesting sugar cane, an occupational niche that confines them to poverty. Haitians also work undocumented outside of bateyes in agricultural positions— harvesting cacao, coffee, beans, or rice.

Lack of legal documents is a major problem among Haitian immigrants and Haitian descendants. Many Haitians are actually stateless—without Haitian or

Dominican legal status—which further complicates matters. Haitians are often refused basic social, educational, and medical rights for lack of documents. They have been


denied basic human rights and have been brutally victimized (Human Rights Watch 2002). Dominicans mistreat them in day-to-day life and in public media. Public perceptions of Haitians draw on stereotypes of backwardness, barbarianism, and

filthiness (NPR 2013). Popular and elite forms of culture portray Haitians as alien to the imagination of national identity (Wooding 2009).

Overview of Presentation Practices in the Dominican Republic

Though Dominican elite have been concerned with constructing an image of a White Dominican Republic in contrast to a Black Haiti, contemporary research shows that Dominicans do not identify as white, though they aspire towards the lighter side of the mixed spectrum (Candelario 2007; Roth 2004). White skin is valued, but Dominicans are not white, they are not black, they are somewhere in between. Julia Alvarez, a

renowned Dominican author, recounts:

“All of us aspired to be on the white side of the spectrum. Don’t get me wrong. None of us wanted to be white-white like those pale, limp-haired gringos, whales who looked like they’d been soaked in a bucket of bleach. The whiter ones of us sat out in the sun to get a little color indio, while others stayed indoors rubbing Nivea on their darker skin to lighten it up!” (1993: 129).

In this context “indio” does not actually connote indigenous descent, but is the officially recognized term for racial mixture. It is the label for skin color that is between black and white.

The “indio” label was invented as an official racial category of the nation during the Trujillo era. It was added to the census to signify someone of mixed race. “Indio” was meant to be used in place of “mulatto”, a word that connotes African ancestry. Until 1998 only three racial groups were officially recognized on government-issued


Dominican researcher Ernesto Sagas, hardly anyone is classified as black, a term that is designated for Haitians, and the majority of Dominicans claim indio descent (1993).

While there are only three official racial categories, there are a plethora of popular racial terms to describe the shades of Dominican skin. Table 1 presents an inexhaustive list of major racial terms used in the Dominican Republic to describe the rainbow of skin between black and white. Terms such as indio can be broken down further when

additional qualifiers are added to the original term describing skin color: such as claro (clear, light), oscuro (dark), lavado (washed), or quemado (burnt) (Roth 2004). In the United States all of these terms would be categorized as either white or black. However, in Wendy Roth’s study of racial identity, respondents reported that there are no

Dominicans that are pure white or pure black, showing Dominican commitment to a racial spectrum.

“Respondents saw mixture as a commonality among all Dominicans; this was what overcame differences such as color or appearance, for even someone who looked White or Black in reality was something more complex. What drew them all together, then, was the fact of being mixed—their Dominicanness” (2004: 10).

Torres-Saillant points out that a flexible concept of race is incredibly important in a country with such a high degree of mixture (2000). A multivalent conceptualization of race “removes the psycho-social turmoil provoked in other societies by the sight of two people, one visibly white and the other visibly black, who identify themselves as biological siblings” (Torres-Saillant 2000: 21).

Dominicans use a number of racial labels to distinguish themselves and others, detailed in Table 1 below.


Table 1: Popular Racial Labels in the Dominican Republic

Term Meaning

Blanc@ White

Blanquit@ A little white; can be used as euphemism for elitist or upper class

Rubi@ Literally, blonde, however, this term is used to signify silky European


Jaba@ Fair skinned with curly hair

Trigeuñ@ Wheat colored

Moren@ Dark-skinned

Mulatt@ Mixed race of African descent

Indi@ Brown skin of mixed descent

Café con leche Tan or light brown skin

Piel canela Cinnamon skin

Priet@ Very dark skinned; usually derogatory

De color Euphemism for black

Negr@ Black

Negrit@ A little black; usually a term of endearment

@ is used to connote female/male neutrality Source: Candelario 2007

These racial terms are used in every day life in the Dominican Republic, and they are not necessarily negative. It is not uncommon to hear children or adults called by their skin color: morena, ven aca! (dark-skinned girl, come here!). Using racial labels is a way to get that person’s attention, but also lets everyone else know who is being addressed. Racial terms can also be used as caring nicknames between family or loved ones: mi negrita bonita, te amo! (My beautiful black girl, I love you!) (Godreau 2000). In other situations racial terms can be used to cause psychological harm. For example, priet@ is almost always a derogatory term that is not used in polite conversation.

These racial classifications are based on more than skin color. They are also based on a combination of physical and social characteristics, including hair color and texture, eye color, facial features, social class, income, and status. Terms such as rubi@ and jaba@ directly refer to hair as a racial qualifier.


It has been suggested that among Dominicans, hair is perhaps eclipsing skin color as the primary identifier of race (Candelario 2000; Murray 2010). In Roth’s study of Dominican perceptions of race she found that someone with the same dark skin tone as someone else would be perceived as lighter skinned if they had straight, European hair (2004). This implies that racial mobility is possible, as hair is an element of appearance that can be managed and changed.

“Black people’s hair has been historically devalued as the most visible stigma of blackness, second only to skin” (Mercer 1987: 36). In the Dominican Republic this stigma expresses itself as pelo malo (bad hair). When questioned as to what pelo malo means, Dominicans reply that pelo malo is pelo grueso (coarse, thick, snarled hair)— black hair. Pelo malo is hair that is kinked, tightly curled, and hard to control. In contrast, pelo bueno (good hair) is hair that is silky, straight, relaxed, and easy to

manage—European hair. Dominicans define hair in four general categories, ordered here from good to bad: lacio (straight), ondulado (wavy), rizado (curly), and crespo (wiry) (Murray and Ortiz 2012). Hair that is straight is good hair, and all other types of hair are varying degrees of bad. Research has shown that pelo bueno is enough to classify a woman as “not black”—regardless of skin color (Candelario 2007). This means that racial transformation can be achieved through hair care.

Hair is the easiest of physical features to change cosmetically, but also one of the hardest to alter permanently, creating an opportunity to study the performance of

Dominican racial identity (Palacios 2004). While black hair is an element of stigma for both Dominican men and women, women invest their time, money, and concern much more deeply in hair management practices than men.


The social stakes are higher for women, too. Dominican women consider racially compromising hair “worse than AIDS. It never goes away” (Badillo 2001: 35). Hair straightening has not only become the standard of beauty, but a social expectation. Women are considered rebellious if they do not straighten their hair (Badillo 2001). Straight, smooth, fine hair is a Dominican appearance norm, and violations of the norm constitute deviance. Women and girls who do not manage their hair are verbally castigated for their deviance with derogatory racial terms and other expressions of contempt: “Muchacha, porque tu anda con ese pelo? Tan feo.” (Girl, why do you go out with this hair? So ugly.) In contrast pelo bueno is a marvel that is complimented and stroked while women share hair stories and secrets.

Straight hair is a symbol of sophistication and professionalism (Grayson 1995, Palacios 2004). Professional Dominican women have pelo bueno. Women would not consider going to a job interview or going to school with hair that is not sleek and shiny. In this, hair acts as a signifier of status. This phenomenon is not specific to the

Dominican Republic, but is also well documented throughout the developed world (Grayson 1995).

Also common throughout the world, but particularly prominent in Dominican culture, is the association of maturity with hairstyle. Hair straightening is a sign of womanhood. It is a way to act out gender and sexuality. Young Dominican girls have their hair braided by their mothers or neighbors and use hair bobbles until puberty, when they begin to process, treat, and straighten their hair. Treatment can range from cheap treatments bought on the street or expensive chemical processing done at a salon. The


change from braids to processed hair is very significant, and it is taken as a sign that a girl is sexually developed.

Women manage their hair by relaxing or straightening it and/or putting in

extensions. Dominican women go to the salon or care for their hair in their homes or on street corners at least once a week. Thus, hair management involves a large time and energy investment. The sites of these hair practices often become female-dominated centers for bonding over stories and advice. bell hooks describes the ritual of Sunday afternoon hair care with nostalgia:

“There is a deeper intimacy in the kitchen on Saturdays when hair is pressed, when fish is fried, when sodas are passed around, when soul music drifts over the talk. It is a time without men. It is a time when we work as women to meet each other’s needs, to make each other feel good inside, a time of laughter and

outrageous talk” (1988: 1).

In the Dominican Republic hair is also a wealth symbol. Hair beautification practices require material resources and aesthetic practices that correspond to wealth status. A trip to the salon for a professional hair fix is affordable to a portion of the population—and indeed, the growing number of hair salons (recent estimates place the number at 55,000) implies that women have resources to invest (Murray and Ortiz 2012). While 25% of Dominicans live on less than a dollar a day, Dominican women find the resources to process their hair in the salon or at home (Central Intelligence Agency). Women who have more money to invest in their hair go to the salon to achieve a more natural look. The differences in wealth are visually expressed in women’s hair.

As already discussed, hair is one of the primary racial signifiers in the Dominican Republic. The 19th


behind the ears) by Juan Antonio Alix helps illustrate the relationship between hair, hair management practices, and race.

“Such and such relative’s hair is always mentioned; But never the black pepper

Of aunt so and so One strives to be very white,

Even distances oneself from the black man Always arching an eyebrow

When he comes to speak with one Because one thinks that one does not have

The black behind the ears”

--Alix, 1883, translated by Ginetta Candelario, 2000

The poem suggests that all Dominicans have a bit of black in them, but management of that blackness (through hair) puts it out of direct sight, and behind the ear. It has been argued that hair relaxing and straightening practices are evidence of cultural engagement in negrophobia and blanquemiento—the whitening of the nation (Candelario 2001). bell hooks writes that the reality is that “straightened hair is linked historically and currently to a system of racial domination that impresses upon black people, and especially black women, that we are not acceptable as we are, that we are not beautiful” (1988: 2). Others have pointed to the painful processes required for hair management as an expression of black inferiority. Hair relaxing and straightening involves heat and chemical treatments, and the recipients can receive scalp burns and blisters that make it painful to brush the hair afterwards. According to Badillo, “hair straightening is a sign of docility and subjection to painful acts…it is a ritual of humiliation (2001: 35).”

The significance surrounding hair and race can also be extended to encompass the issue of nationality. Dominicans are construed a racial mix, as opposed to the blackness and African-ness of Haitians. Thus, hair is another point of difference between Haitians


and Dominicans. The Dominican standard of beauty is to straighten hair to accomplish a Hispanic beauty ideal. Dominicans think that in comparison, Haitian hair is ugly and unprofessional. “Haitian hair” is any hairstyle that is perceived to be outlandish, though oftentimes there is no real difference between the hair texture and quality of Dominicans and Haitians.

Contemporary Research on Dominican Presentation

The field of research on Dominican presentation practices is one that has developed recently. Wendy Roth has made an important contribution to understanding how Dominicans interpret racial characteristics. Ginetta E. Candelario’s impressive work on Dominican identity displays has made her the preeminent researcher of the field. Gerald Murray has conducted research on racial perceptions between Dominicans and Haitians, making him the first to analyze Haitian presentation practices. Finally, Gerald Murray and Marina Ortiz have recently collaborated on a research project concerning Dominican beauty salons. Their research has questioned the previous consensus of the literature.

Wendy Roth, in “Understanding Race at Home and Abroad: The Impact of Migration on Dominican and Puerto Rican Identities” compared Dominican and Puerto Rican migrants’ perceptions of race with non-migrants (2004). Part of Roth’s study included a photographic instrument. She showed her respondents twenty photos of individuals of differing racial phenotypes, and asked them to describe the racial appearance. This led to an in-depth discussion of racial terms. She found that Dominicans appeared to have racialized the label of “Dominican” to signify racial


mixedness. In other words, diversity of racial appearance itself is what defines looking Dominican (2004:10).

Ginetta Candelario’s book Black Behind the Ears: Dominican Racial Identity from Museums to Beauty Shops (2007) provides an extensive analysis of Dominican racial identity. Candelario used a variety of methods to accomplish her research, including participant observation of a Dominican beauty salon in New York, photo elicitation, and an analysis of the Black Mosaic exhibit in the Anacostia Smithsonian museum in Washington D.C. The main argument of Candelario’s text is that throughout history, Dominicans and other actors have strategically hidden the African origins of the nation “behind the ears.” According to Candelario’s research, Dominicans define themselves as “indio” (indigenous) first, of Spanish origin second, and “keep the black behind the ears”.

Through her ethnography of Salon Lamadas in New York City, Candelario shows that hair is a medium of racial identity management. In other words, Dominican women manage their hair to approximate a Hispanic and/or European look. Candelario reported that her respondents came to the beauty shop at least once a week to have their hair relaxed and straightened to approximate the Dominican idealization of beauty—straight haired, tanned, and fine featured. This ideal is that of a European, Asian, or indigenous woman, indicating that Dominican aesthetic ideals are intertwined with racial


Through a photo elicitation project conducted at the beauty shop, Candelario found that Dominican women referred to hairstyle over skin color to define another woman’s race. Candelario’s subjects reported that fine, straight hair is enough to classify


a woman as “not black”—regardless of skin color. One respondent explained: “black women are confusing, but the hair lets you know” (2007: 237). By emphasizing Hispanic or indigenous heritage, Dominican women avoid the label of racial blackness.

Gerald Murray’s research, “Dominican-Haitian Racial and Ethnic Perception and Sentiments”, conducted on the Haitian-Dominican border, is the only published report that addresses Dominican as well as Haitian hair presentation practices. His research found that Haitians throughout the Dominican Republic engage in varying hair

presentations. In some areas Haitian women weave their hair with colorful yarn and use complex braiding styles to create intricate designs. Murray’s extensive interviews on both sides of the border suggest that hair is becoming the primary racial signifier for Dominicans, while Haitians express fewer concerns over hair as a symbol of race.

The most recent development in literature on Dominican hair culture is Gerald Murray and Marina Ortiz’s book, “Pelo Bueno, Pelo Malo” (2012). Murray and Ortiz studied the Dominican “beauty market” by studying the Dominican hair salon as a micro-enterprise. They conducted fifty interviews with Dominican men and women about their salon habits, surveyed one hundred salons from different socioeconomic statuses,

practiced participant observation in various salons, and conducted a document analysis of beauty aesthetics in the Dominican Republic, in the Santo Domingo area.

Their central argument is that Dominican women do not go to the salon to “whiten” themselves, they go to the salon to make themselves beautiful: “La norma de cabello lacio en la Republica Dominicana representa una simple premisa estetica” (The norm of straight hair in the Dominican Republic represents a simple aesthetic premise) (2012: 275). They consider the norm of straight good hair to be a beauty aesthetic, and


attribute the obsession for straight hair in the Dominican Republic to be an aspiration towards being “different”. Their respondents compared the Dominican desire for straight hair, just the same as straight-haired women’s desire for curly hair. For Murray and Ortiz, hair styling techniques are not a way to hide blackness, but a way to have beautiful and manageable hair.

They argue that the term “pelo malo” is not derogatory, that it is simply a term that means hair that is difficult to manage. Most shockingly, Murray and Ortiz suggest that the “racial problem” of the Dominican Republic is something of the past, and that a Eurocentric conception of beauty no longer exists in the Dominican Republic. This book has captured the attention of many, as it challenges the previously accepted findings put forth by Candelario.

The literature that exists concerning Dominican presentation practices is by no means complete. However, from even a short examination of the literature available, it is clear that the current thesis regarding Dominican presentation practices has not been extended to Haitian heritage residents of the Dominican Republic. It is exactly this paucity of literature that this thesis attempts to address.



Background of the Setting

As a Peace Corps Volunteer (PCV) stationed in the Dominican Republic, I have unique access to rural, impoverished, and otherwise unknown areas through the extensive network of Peace Corps Volunteers within the country. Through this network I identified Batey El Prado, a batey in the Eastern region of the country between Hato Mayor and El Seibo, as an ideal location to accomplish this research.



El Prado is a batey. Bateyes are properties owned by sugar cane companies who provide for the basic needs of the inhabitants that care for the company’s sugar cane. The majority of these sugar companies use Haitian workers as cheap labor. Inhabitants of bateyes have very few rights. In the past it has been reported that batey residents work for 12-18 hours a day and come home to be locked in their barracks at night to minimize risk of runaways (Larr 2013). Batey residents are marginalized, unable to exercise their human rights, and dominated by the batey owners. The batey is a community that is fundamentally defined by labor—specifically exploitative labor. In this, a batey can be considered an economic enclave.

Sociologist Roger Waldinger defines an economic enclave as an economy that “imports every input and exports every output. Most importantly, profits are exported; consequently, economic enclaves fail to generate growth in other sectors” (1993: 448). As sugar-oriented communities, bateyes have little to offer other than day-to-day

survival. Employees and workers do not own any part of the production process, and the poorest of the poor are contracted for work to maintain the status quo. Bateyes can be seen as microcosms of the larger dynamic between Haiti and the Dominican Republic, in that the physical realities of life in bateyes heighten the racial and class tensions that exist across the country. Thus, bateyes are ideal research sites for understanding how race is articulated, performed, and lived.

Batey El Prado is a community that is home to approximately 650 people. The Batey was founded in 1977 by the company Central Romana. Central Romana is the largest private landowner in the Dominican Republic, owning 200,000 acres of the land in the East. Central Romana itself has been in existence for over one hundred years, and


its sugar production accounts for 70% of the total sugar production of the country, making it the largest producer and exporter of sugar in the Dominican Republic (Central Romana 2013). While the company is moving towards mechanization of the planting, cut and haul of sugar cane, batey communities like El Prado continue to exist to do the manual labor.

El Prado is called an “active batey” meaning that all of its occupants, besides children, work in the processing of sugar cane. Workers primarily from Haiti are

contracted as seasonal workers for picking the sugar cane during the zafra, the six-month season of the year when the cane is ripe (December-May). During the other six months of the year a minimum number of workers are contracted out for cultivating and

maintaining the cane fields. The majority of El Prado residents have Haitian ancestry and approximately 30% were born in Haiti. Most other residents are second or third

generation Haitian immigrants or Haitian-Dominicans (DeHart 2013).

Batey El Prado’s diverse demographic and “active” status was what first attracted me to it as a research site. During my first visit I found El Prado to be even more

intriguing than it had first appeared. Social life in Batey El Prado is organized in a spatially striking manner. There is one road that divides the Batey in two distinct parts. The managers and employees live on the left near the entrance to the Batey (the top left of the figure below), and the workers live further into the Batey and on the right side of the road (bottom right of the figure below). All spaces have designated uses for Central Romana and the Batey’s design is more factory than community. Just as Carlos Andujar Persinal noted in his report on Batey El Soco, every inch of the batey is marked by its owner (2001).



Figure 2: Aerial View of Batey El Prado, Google Maps

Accompanying the visual social status divide is a marked difference in living quality. The employees live in wood or block houses with indoor bathrooms or private latrines and water spigots for every household. The workers live in groups of four in eight-feet by eight-feet barracks. They have communal latrines, and access to two water spigots that do not receive potable water. The majority of the employees have wives and

children that live on Central Romana property and go to a Kindergarten-8th

grade school that is provided for by World Vision. The workers may have wives and children, but there is no room for them to live together in Batey El Prado. Most of the employees’ children have Dominican documents that allow them to go to high school. Children of workers are often undocumented and cannot attend school beyond eighth grade. In fact, approximately 43% of El Prado residents do not have Dominican citizenship, something that magnifies other social inequalities (DeHart 2013). The employees receive a salary that is approximately four times the income of workers, who receive payment piecemeal for their work. All of this demonstrates that the Batey employees have livelihoods in El




Related subjects :